The 1961 contest felt like a bit of a tipping point for me, with the predominant sounds of the early contest becoming so staid and predictable that for the first time ever – despite a few likeable songs – watching a Eurovision actually felt like a bit of a chore. So while I wait for colour TV and the teen revolution to reach the contest, the prospect of another few years of more of the same doesn’t fill me with confidence.
1962 sees the contest hosted for the first time in the Duchy of Luxembourg; the smallest country so far to have the honour of hosting. The venue is the Villa Louvigny and the host is one Mireille Delannoy. I can find little information about Ms Delannoy, but one thing I do pick up on from viewing this contest is a marked shift into a more informal presenting style. The contest starts with a dramatic orchestral version of the 1961 winner from Jean-Claude Pascal, before Ms Delannoy takes to the stage and briskly runs through a series of welcomes in the languages of all of the participating countries. After this and a brief introductory spiel (in French), she disappears and, with little of the preamble that we’ve become used to in the past couple of years, the contest kicks off.
No nations debut or withdraw in 1962, leaving us with the same mix of nations as the previous year. Finland open the show with one Marion Rung, a popular young singer with an instantly catchy, if slightly silly tune by the name of ‘Tipi Tii‘, which literally translates as ‘Chirpy Cheep‘. Yes, we’re in the already well established realm of the Eurovision nonsense song, but in Ms Rung’s defence she’s singing in a particularly obscure language so you can’t really blame her or Finland for trying to make things that bit more accessible. As you might expect, it’s a catchy song and confidently performed – she gamely interplays with the orchestra, miming along to a brief flute solo and cupping her ear to underscore the call and response effect. It’s not one for the ages, but a fun, memorable opener that improves on the position of Finland’s 10th-placing debut entry from 1961, if not on the score – under a new system (of which more later) she only scores a very modest four points. Nevertheless, she scored her first number one in her home country and was on her way to a long and fruitful career, with a more noteworthy Eurovision appearance to come in a few years time.
A familiar face follows for Belgium, reliable mid-table placer Fud LeClerc with his fourth roll of the dice. Ton Nom (Your Name) doesn’t strike as particularly better or worse than any of his other classy but forgettable efforts, but for whatever reason the appeal has clearly worn thin as this song has the indignity of being the first ever nul pointer in Eurovision history. It’s a dubious honour he shares with four other performers tonight, which may slightly ease the pain. Due to the different voting patterns of the early contests, many Eurovision fans only start counting nul pointers from the infamous Jahn Teigen in 1978, and this certainly isn’t an embarrassing or even an especially noteworthy song to justify its small position in Eurovision history. It’s well sung, melodic enough, but also dull as dishwater. We won’t be seeing him again, and I can’t say I’m going to miss him terribly.
A three-song string of nul pointers continues with Spain, who debuted the previous year and return with Victor Balaguer, another middle-aged man with an opera-tinged delivery. There’s quite a dynamic arrangement to Llámame (Call Me) which makes it stand out – at least to me. It doesn’t rock my world, but I’d certainly have thrown it a few points. I’m still appreciating the uniquely jaunty flavour of the early Spanish entries, even if the juries of the time clearly weren’t.
The run of shame continues, predictably enough, with the ever-hapless Austria. Now this song is quite something. If you enjoyed the deranged opera stylings of Sweden’s 2009 entry from Malena Ernman, you might get on board with Nur in der Weiner luft (Only in the Vienna air). While it obviously lacks that songs disco backing, it is as full-on an operetta piece as we’ve heard in the contest, with a committed-bordering-on-deranged performance from singer Eleonore Schwarz. It’s all very passionate, but entirely out of step with everything else that’s going on. We’ve heard operatic voices before, but this sounds like a full-on aria. By the end her soprano trilling sounds genuinely deranged – again, see the final minute of the Ernman performance for a contemporary comparison – and it’s little wonder that the juries backed away from this one. Austria still don’t seem to quite understand what the Eurovision Song Contest is actually about. Impressive singer, but not competing in the right company at all.
Denmark have been consistently solid since their 1957 debut, neither embarassing themselves nor challenging for victory. Vuggevise (Lullaby) is a pretty little ballad; singer Ellen Winther is another Opera-trained vocalist, and while she doesn’t go in for the bizarre vocal acrobatics of the performer who immediately precedes her, she does have that very distinctive Soprano trill to her delivery, making the song sound pleasant enough but rather staid. A mere two points lands her in 10th place.
Sweden continue to press on with their quirky, folky storytelling vibe, despite a largely indifferent response from juries. Sol och Vår (Sun and Spring) is a jaunty little number not at all dissimilar to their 1959 entry ‘Augustin’. Like that song, Sol och Vår tells a gently tragicomic story about a young girl who goes on a date with a dashing stranger, only to discover that he is in fact married. Singer Inger Berggren comes from the same homely-pretty, eyebrow-raised charm school as pretty much every Swedish singer so far. It’s almost like they had a finishing school for this sort of thing. During a particularly vivacious orchestral section, she sings-scats along with impressive gusto, if not much in the way of tunefulness. I still find this kind of thing entirely charming, but the juries remain unimpressed, and it’s yet another mid-table finish for the Swedes at a joint-7th place.
The already obligatory non-winning entry that goes on to become a worldwide hit comes from Germany this year, as opposed to the usual Italy. That being said, Zwei kleine Italiener actually translates as Two Little Italians, so they did get in there somewhere. Performed by Conny Froboess, the highly melodic song is a clear standout, although I can see why the juries didn’t entirely buy in to its lightweight charms. Froboess isn’t the strongest of vocalists, and it’s more jaunty than the dramatic ballads that have tended to score well so far. The song is also notable for being an early example of a Eurovision song addressing a social issue – in this case migrant workers in Germany. The subject of the song is two Italian workers who dream of returning to their girlfriends Tina and Marina. The song was widely translated – into Dutch, English and Italian by Froboess herself, and into Spanish, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian and Finnish by other singers. The popular American singer Connie Francis made a recording of the Italian translation. Tonight, the song only finishes 6th with 9 points.
The fourth and final nul pointer of the night comes from Netherlands duo De Spelbrekers. The rather middle aged duo sing of the charms of a beautiful woman named Katinka and the effect she has on the young men who see her walking by. Despite the humiliating result this is very catchy, and has gone down as one of the more well-remembered early Dutch entries – proof that it’s sometimes better to fail gloriously than quietly. At one point during this performance, the transmission is plunged into darkness, with only the duo’s shirts and disturbingly white teeth still visible. Whether this affected the result remains unclear. It’s a very catchy song, although the performance is static and dull, with neither singer looking especially happy to be there.
France follow, with Un Premier Amour (A First Love), the winning song of the evening. For the first time watching these early shows, there really is no contest in my mind – this song and performance is absolutely streets ahead of everything else tonight. It isn’t an especially catchy song, but it’s magnificently performed by the strikingly beautiful Isabelle Aubret, a model of composure and sultry delivery. This is also the first time I really notice the camera work in an early Eurovision performance. Most songs so far have been filmed in a very basic ‘point and shoot’ manner, but a sustained close-up on Aubrets face adds intimacy and really draws you into her performance. The song may not be terribly well remembered these days, but on the night she wins by a mile, and deservedly so.
Norway field Kom Sol, Kom Regn (Come Sun, Come Rain) a low-key jazz number delivered by the deep-voiced Inger Jacobson. I have a sneaking regard for the jazzier entries, and this has a lovely arrangement. It doesn’t especially stand out though, and joint 10th place with 2 points reflects a collective shrug from the juries.
Jean Philippe previously represented France with the very silly ‘Oui Oui Oui’ in 1959. He becomes the first artist to represent two different countries, singing for Switzerland this year with La Retour (The Return). It’s a much more classy, dignified number and he sings it very well, but it lacks the clear appeal and shares 10th place with the song that preceded it. A shame, I liked this one.
We’re on a run of ballads now, but Yugoslavia have a good one with a lively arrangement and a beautiful vocal from singer Lola Novaković. There’s a lovely dreamy restraint to these early Yugoslav entries, they sound like classic songs even from the first listen. Ne pali svetlo u sumrak (Don’t Turn The Lights On At Twilight – I’m sure it’s much prettier before translation) is deservedly appreciated by the juries who reward Novaković with fourth place – an improvement on their 8th place debut last year and sadly their last whiff of the top 5 for over twenty years.
The United Kingdom have now been frustrated by three near-miss runners up in a row, and must have been confident of a win. They’re not quite as competitive this year though, with Ring-A-Ding-Girl by Ronnie Carroll contenting itself to joint fourth place. As the name suggests, it’s a very ‘gee whizz’ sort of a song, although it has a nice classic pop structure, if somewhat corny. He was an established recording artist when he came to Eurovision, although this failed to scale the heights of the three UK entries that preceded it, indeed it missed the top 40 altogether. He would score better on his second crack at Eurovision just next year. He has very shiny teeth, which combined with a quite prominent brow and low-quality black and white transmission makes for a rather disturbing visage.
The third returning artist of the evening is Luxembourg‘s Camillo Felgen, extending a run of singers who look faintly like the undead. His Eurovision career got off to an undistinguished start in 1960 when he finished last with a single point, but he improves his fortunes considerably on home turf. Petit bonhomme (Little Boy) is one of those classic father-son ballads, sung in the classic chanson style. Again, it’s nothing we haven’t heard a million times before already – aside from the surprisingly laid back spoken word lines in the verses – but this is a style of song that, when done well, tends to do well, and so it is here. It doesn’t make a big impression on me, but I’m happy that he had a chance to redeem himself.
Another big local star takes to the stage for Italy – Claudio Villa was already a major star who had recently won the pretigious San Remo festival for the third time. He would go on to win a fourth time – a joint record – and reputedly sell over 45 million albums worldwide. As for the song, Addio Addio (Goodbye, Goodbye) is more of the dramatic croony-shouty balladry that we’ve come to expect from Italy. It’s very impassioned, with an instantly memorable hook, so it’s a mild surprise that the juries only dole out 3 points, enough for 9th place. He is very shouty though, so much so that you sort of wish he’d step back from the microphone a touch.
Monaco close the show with the fourth and final comeback kid of the night. I don’t think I noticed in 1960 what a large man François Deguelt appears to be. By finishing second tonight with Dis Rein (Say Nothing) he becomes the first of five artists so far to finish second and third without ever winning. The others are Cliff Richard for the United Kingdom, Katja Ebstein for Germany, Chiara Siracusa for Malta and Zeljko Joksimovic for Serbia. Anyway, this is a very well constructed French ballad, possibly the best chanson of the night and a well deserved runner up.
A bit of knockabout comedy serves as the interval act, with popular French Clown Achille Zavatta tumbling down the stairs, attempting to add ‘Zavatta Land’ to the scoreboard, and performing some jaunty physical comedy with various instruments from the orchestra. It’s very of its time, but compared to the staid presentations of the previous shows it feels positively revolutionary, and certainly adds to the impression that Eurovision is finally finding its feet as a proper TV show.
Once Zavatta has been dragged away by two ‘security guards’, host Mireille Delannoy takes charge of the voting. The format has changed this year, with individual jury votes being collated and each country simply announcing their top 3. It makes for a brisk voting process, but also for very dull viewing, as France are clearly the overwhelming favourites almost from the start. The system is never repeated, although further tweaks will continue before we finally arrive at the hallowed 1-12 system.
After The Contest
It’s a little more difficult to judge the success of the Francophone winners in this era when not all national charts are documented or even existed. Un Premier Amour did not trouble the UK charts, but Aubret had an extensive recording career over the next few decades. She made several attempts to return to Eurovision, and represented France again in 1968, but of course we’ll cover that at the appropriate time.
The UK entry by Ronnie Carroll broke the run of hit entries from home-grown performers, missing the top 40 entirely. However, Carroll’s career didn’t suffer too badly – a few months later he scored his biggest UK hit with Roses Are Red (My Love) and in 1963 he returned to Eurovision for another roll of the dice. Did he do any better? You’ll have to wait and see… (or, y’know, just look it up).
I’m not entirely sure why, but I find this year a lot more enjoyable than 1961. It feels like the quality of songs is higher, and the running order offers a bit more variation in tone. The right song absolutely won, and there are a handful of others I can see myself coming back to from time to time.
The more light-hearted presentation certainly helps matters, and this feels like an important year for the contest in terms of finding its feet. On the other hand, the new voting style is a complete buzzkill, not helped by a result that – while justified – was obvious from the start.
On to 1963, which will feature a couple of the bigger stars of the era to enter the contest, including one of the biggest selling recording artists of all time…
Votes from the Lucas jury (given in the traditional 12-0)
12 France – Un Premier Amour
10 Yugoslavia – Ne pali svetlo u sumrak
08 Sweden – Sol och Vår
07 Switzerland – La Retour
06 Germany – Zwei kleine Italiener
05 Finland – Tipi Tii
04 Norway – Kom Sol, Kom Regn
03 Monaco – Dis Rein
02 United Kingdom – Ring-A-Ding-Girl
01 Austria – Nur in der Weiner luft